Paleontologists Expecting More Fossil Discoveries in Downtown LA

Subway construction team approaches nationally protected La Brea Tar Pits
July 25, 2017 Updated: July 25, 2017

What’s a great place for fossil discoveries? Lately, paleontologists have been “striking gold” at the construction site for the Los Angeles Metro Purple Line Extension.

Over the last eight months, a team of paleontologists have been working alongside construction crews under the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles’ overloaded road network to uncover numerous fossils dating back to the last ice age.

The rare find of a near-complete mammoth skull and tusks, which are at least 11,000-years-old, were found hiding just 15 feet under street level at the southwest corner of Wilshire Boulevard and La Brea Avenue, reported the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s blog The Source in late Nov, 2016.

Since then, the team has uncovered fossils belonging to another mammoth, a mastodon, a camel, a horse, a bison, and a turtle, lead paleontologist, Dr. Ashley Leger, told CBS.

“It’s one thing to read in a history book that these animals used to live all over North America, but it makes it more real when they’re found in your city,” Leger told the Science Times. “This is what lived there thousands of years before.”

While it is difficult to accurately date the ages of the fossil finds, Leger says they belong to the Pleistocene period, making them at least 11,000 years old.

Over 100 hundred years ago, the remains of an ancient woman were also found in the La Brea Tar Pits. The find was made in 1914. Radiocarbon dating placed her at 10,000-years-old, meaning she likely walked alongside mammoths and saber-toothed tigers.

Leger says that these recent finds are just the beginning. Her team is preparing for more “glimpses into the past” over the next few weeks as the subway construction enters new areas close to the La Brea Tar Pits.

“We are very excited about what we might discover next in this fossil-rich area,” Leger told The Source.

The La Brea Tar Pits are considered a National Natural Landmark, a designation that promotes the conservation of America’s diverse geological and ecological history. Fossils are commonly found in the area due to the natural tar that continues to seep to the surface from deep underground. Luckily, the tar helps to preserve the prehistoric remains.